Saturday, April 27, 2013

4675 Days At Kroger

12 years, 6 months, 11 days of my life.
Farewell to Chad party from Kroger 
I sat in my car and called Kellie to tell her that I decided to quit. Surely AK Steel would call me this week to offer me my job. It was the fall of 2000, and I had been working for the Kroger Company for just over a week. I was sure that I was done. This company was not for me.

They had shipped me out to Greenfield, Ohio where I was to assist in the grande opening of a new store.  Caleb had been born only a few weeks earlier and my wife was home alone with him. 

Kroger had given me an option of going to Greenfield or resigning. I had expressed my opposition to staying in Greenfield for a week and my supervisor had shown me a stack of candidates who were willing to replace me. I apologized and went to work.

Essentially I was a shelf stocker and a cleaner. This was not what I had signed up for. Just a few months prior I had been a mental health professional in the state of Indiana... but life had taken a turn.

I sat in my car and received a reality check as my wife reminded me that she was on sick leave, my son was only a month old, Kroger provided me a paycheck and insurance, and I'd better realize that I needed this job for my family.

Having received my scolding, I sheepishly tucked the phone back into my pocket and stepped out of my car. I slipped back into one of the side doors, walked back the to the toy aisle and found my name badge below the Hot Wheel pegs. I picked it back up and fastened it back to my shirt. 

I had quit and returned... no-one had noticed.

That was 12 and a half years ago. I have been co-manager, program roll-out coordinator, Seafood Merchandising Representative, Meat Representative, Meat/Seafood Coordinator, and Food Manager.

Today I was greeted by Barb Griffis as she walked through the door of my going away luncheon. She was my first interview with Kroger. My entire career here was possible because she called me for an interview and flagged me as a "Yes" for a second interview.  I remember those days, and I remember being told that I was not a typical Kroger candidate... they asked me to make the case as to why I might be Kroger material.

Kroger liked business majors and advertising majors. I was a Psychology major with experience in churches and mental health. After two interviews and 3.5 hours later... I was offered a position with Kroger.

This was a job that I never really wanted and never really felt comfortable doing. And yet... it taught me what I needed to learn. 

Stick-to-it-ed-ness, patience, discernment, flexibility, compassion, and yielding to the control of my superiors. I had to learn that I wasn't always right, and even if I was... I still had to yield to the desire of my supervisor. Customers aren't always right, but they get their way anyway.

I was taught that "the little sh*t makes all the difference" and that "if you can't get it done, I don't need you." I learned that it was my job to simply "make it work" and that excuses were like butt-holes... everyone has them.

I learned to suck up my ego, lift my perspective above my circumstance, and somehow find joy and happiness in the living of my day. People, relationships, and how we all walk through life together trumped any corporate troubles or petty annoyances. 

I learned that life was about taking the day and living belief in the moment. I learned to share my faith and walk my belief with those whom I shared my hours.

Today as people I had worked with through the decade plus walked through the door to shake my hand or give me a hug... I realized that this time spent at Kroger was time well invested. I had grown as a person to be at this place today.

Barb Griffis, Russ Umberg, Randy Brandt, Bryan Foltz, Mike Martz, Christy, Sue, Jim, Nakeya, George, Dru, Mike, Heather, Erin, Trina, Skye, Pam, Terri, Cassandra, Mel... you all helped me realize how blessed we all were these past few years and months.

I am thankful to have been a part of this team. I am grateful to the lessons that I needed to learn. I am deeply appreciative of your affections and your kindness to my family. 

I am privileged to have been a part of this Kroger family, and I am thankful to take each of you with me as my family is faithful to our calling. 

Now that the timing of God is right... I have made my exit from Kroger. 

45 days and we will be serving in Guatemala. God is good. Thank you all, for walking these days as I found my way.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

GUATEMALA 2013: (14) Reliant

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9
I was given two tasks today at work: get my boss into his office that was locked from the inside, and kill a fly.

After 20 minutes of unsuccessful attempts at getting the door open, I decided to tackle killing the giant fly that was buzzing the room. As it flew past me with a buzz I took a swat with a clipboard, made contact and sent it home-run style with a satisfying smack.

The fly hit the door that I had failed to open, slide to the floor, and then crawled underneath the crack.

The fly was now very much alive and safe inside the room that had thwarted my every effort to enter.

I was a lousy-lockpick that couldn't hurt a fly.

I burst out in hysterical laughter that caused the others in the room to turn and look at me with concern. This fueled my hysterics into pure mania as I struggled to breath between guffaws.

In time I caught my breath and sat down with a smile as I imagined the fly with his little feet up on my bosses desk. My mind reflected back on a conversation that Kellie and I had just a couple of days ago.

We are fully reliant on God.

Every idea we have pursued... every person we have chased down, every door we have pounded on that originated from our planning and brainstorms... has resulted in a closed door.

Our efforts at raising funds are most often met with a "no." Our best ideas to sell our home... rejected. Plans to purchase vehicles... denied. I felt at times like that fly that was smacked by the clipboard.

And (now I laughed again) as I realized that like the fly, I had found myself propelled by a power that was not my own, landing in a perfect place to meet my needs.

Within the last month and totally not conforming with our best made plans we have: received funds to purchase a vehicle, surpassed our pledge amount for financial support, sold the last of our furniture, extended the long term lease on our home to our amazing tenants, witnessed two additional churches come on board as partners, my license as a minister was granted, and I have begun the formal process of ordination online through the Church of God.

God has provided what is needed as we take steps of obedience. He reminds us as often as we need it that this is by His doing and not our own. We are reliant on the provision of God... for everything.

And we are so thankful.

It is amazing to have this calling funded 100% by people who share in this calling and passion. We understand fully that this is not our ministry, our calling, or our mission.

This all belongs to God. You and our family... we belong to Him too.

We are reliant. And we are right where we need to be.

Zechariah 4:6

So he answered and said to me: 
“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: 

‘Not by might nor by power, 
but by My Spirit,’ Says the Lord of hosts.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

GUATEMALA 2013: (13) An Evening with the Shepherds (Beatings or Ice Cream)

An Evening with the Shepherds
featuring Adam Agin
alternate title
"Beatings or Ice Cream"
On January 22 I took a chance and sent a Facebook Message to Adam Agin, asking him if he might consider coming to Cincinnati and helping us out a fundraiser for our mission. 

3 years ago Adam was a voice that gripped my soul in a critical moment. He and his band were at a benefit sing for a small mission in Guatemala. Kellie had convinced me to go on the trip, and we were here to help raise funds. I heard him sing for the first time and later I wrote these words

And then the music started. 
I was at first in awe, and within minutes I was in tears. 
I remain overwhelmed with the power and beauty 
that rained down from that young three man team. 

I am convinced that the view from 
the window in my soul is shared by Adam Agin. 
I am astounded that God has shaken him 
with the same realizations of which 
my own awareness has been arrested.

I sat in that auditorium and felt dual tears running down each side of my face. 
It is such a shattering moment when you realize 
that you have lost your belief. 
I have been there, and it is a desolate place.

This was around late February and early March of 2010. 
I struggled daily with moments of near insanity and tear-stained guilt. 
I felt empty and lost inside. Dead. I was willing to try anything.

Even a trip to Guatemala.

Within 24 hours of my work on that mountainside, 
surrounded by tons of dirt that I needed to move 
and with the beautiful horizon of the surrounding 
mountains and volcanoes… 
my soul was restored. 
This missionary journey to Guatemala was 
the renewed salvation of my own belief.

And in the relationships that developed with the men I worked with
 I saw the man that I wanted to become.  

I saw how their labor and sweat and smile 
in the midst of it all 
built up hope from the dust of the earth. 
I watched how their worship in song and 
sincerity of heart brought real joy to their faces. 

I watched how these two men were looked at 
by their wives and by their children-- 
and I often had to hide my face as I was overcome 
by the emotion that Noahed my mind.

I saw true belief and I knew that 
how I viewed myself 
had been forever altered.

I had been trying to run on standing feet.
 I had lost my belief.

And I found it here… 

That winter night as I was convicted by the power of the lyrics and emotion of Neulore… I became aware for the first time of my true path.

The memories of that night gripped me again while working in the mountains of Guatemala for the first time. God was reshaping my heart. 

And it all started with a song from a band.

We needed to raise funding for a vehicle and we needed to build partnerships. While being a missionary is a faith based calling, it also requires money to make it happen.

I wrote Adam a letter and I poured out my heart. I told him of his influence on me. I told him the story of the children in Guatemala. I told him about our family and what God had called us to do.

I told him that "I want you to be our voice and I want the Shepherd Family to be your missionaries." 

And I pressed send on the message and held my breath. 

To my shock Adam answered back… and we began a conversation that led to the event that raised our mission $5,000 on April 12 and has now allowed us to reach our funding goal and help cover the cost of a 2007 Hyundai Terracan AWD, diesel,SUV that will carry the hopes and dreams of orphans & widows across the mountains of Guatemala.

The night of the event far exceeded my every hope, prayer, and dream. I understood in that moment the exceeding abundance of God. I continue to be overwhelmed by the power of that moment. It was yet another affirming, shaping, movement of God onto my soul. Yes… this calling is mine.

The day of the event I began to communicate to our 3 kids my expectation of their behavior for the coming night. I told them: 

"there will be no running, 
you will not get nasty and sweaty, 
you will not remove your shoes, 
you will not remove layers of clothes. 

If your mamma dresses you in 3 shirts, a sweater, and a coat then I expect you to have all 3 shirts, the sweater, and the coat on at the end of the night.

Everyone will be watching you and I expect you to be polite, calm, gracious, and charming. We are missionaries and we must conduct ourselves as such. 

We must show ourselves to be the perfect little family that always gets along, loves each other, and is always living out the love of God.

If you can do so, I will buy you ice cream. 

If you cannot, I may beat you.

It is your choice."

Caleb, the 12 year old, found the irony in the statement and began to crack up with laughter while the other two followed suit with a slightly distressed look on their face until they caught the grin and twinkle in my eye.

In my life… I have had my share of both from God. It has taken some beatings to get my attention, and at times I have found ice cream through obedience. I value both.

In the music of Adam indeed I still hear the longings of my own soul. He indeed has become my voice. Kellie and I are so grateful to share this path with Adam and with you.

Never lose sight of your belief. 
You can't run with standing feet.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

GUATEMALA 2013: (12) Resignation To My Shadow Man

Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life...
When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive 
that only great and worthy things 
have any permanent and absolute existence, 
that petty fears and petty pleasures are but 
the shadow of the reality.
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Hire Date 10/16/2000
I never wanted to work for Kroger. In fact, I was embarrassed by it when I first landed the job. I told myself that it was only temporary. I envisioned my son standing in front of his class on career day with all the other students. I could hear his classmates saying, "my dad is an attorney, my dad is an architect, my dad is a doctor." Then my son would step forward and say, "my dad is a grocer."

I actually walked out the first week... only to call Kellie from my car and have her tell me, "you have a 6 week old son and bills to pay, get back in there." And so, I slipped back in to discover that no-one had noticed my earlier retreat. I picked my badge up off the shelf and went back to work.

Over the years I learned that Kroger was not only a decent job, it was a great career. After 5 years of apathy and stagnation I began to recognize the possibilities and pursue a real path of success that had led me to develop a resume with a competitive edge. I was ready for further promotion.

And then I began to realize that this man that I had become was only a shadow of who I was created to be. My eyes began to be locked on a passion that became a vision and then an undeniable calling.

It was at this time that I received multiple offers for promotion that I had been pursuing without result for years. I remember looking my potential boss in the eye and telling him "no." Instead of saying yes to what had previously been my dream job... I found myself wiping tears and telling him of the children in Guatemala. 

For the first time in my life, I knew who I was created to be.

And all the memories of the days you lost
You add them up and then you count the cost
You're just a shadow of a man undone
Another life that has just begun
~Lyrics from Neulore, Shadow of a Man

And so, at the top of my game with a Fortune 50 company that I had learned to love... today I issued my resignation with a smile and a heart at peace.

We have this single life to live and we have these finite days to spend. It is time to pursue this worthy existence. 

It is time to throw off the shadow man and take hold of who I was created to become. 

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
~The Shepherds Psalm

So light your torch and follow me...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

GUATEMALA 2013: (11) An Update for the Curious

Sterling hunting Easter Eggs

65 days before launch, here is the life of a missionary…

All our furniture is either sold or is in the process of being sold. We own no appliances, we sleep in borrowed beds, wash our clothes in our parent's machines, our cars are spoken for, and we still need a few suitcases.

Aleksandra on the first full day at Grandmother's

We spent an amazing 10 months with my parents and now we have moved to Kellie's parents to spend the final 10 weeks. I am so thankful for their kind and welcoming hearts.

I have 20 days left until I walk away from my career (12 working days) and we have 65 days until we buckle our safety harnesses and go wheels up on that flight over the Gulf of Mexico.

Our support hovers somewhere around 95% and we wait to see what it actually looks like when faith meets reality. 

My Son, Caleb working through all of the changes...
We understand deeply that this is a mission of faith: it requires faith that we step out into the unknown holding the hand of God as our only security, and also a full reliance on the provision of God through His PEOPLE on our funding.

Simply put… it goes like this, we are stepping out on faith with the belief that as long as we follow the path of God, He will provide our needs through His people. 

If we are following His will… well, then the money will come.

We are telling our story. We are putting ourselves out there. The rest is between God and the folks who hear our message. Our mission is bigger than the people of Guatemala… it extends to everyone who hears our heart.

Yes, we will lift up orphans and love these who we all call, "the least of these" and still… we know that each person who walks with us… has struggles and poverties of their own. 

We have them too.

And we face them with JOY!
This is our mission of embracing our faith. Of living our belief… and simply of following the path of the One who has saved us. Nothing compares to the promise of a God willing to be crucified at the hands of His creation. 

With joy we step into these final days… reconciled to the path of a God who created us.